An article in Science presents research showing that the building blocks of life are more prevalent than previously thought. It says a lot of other things too, but this is what I get out of it. This makes me wonder more than ever about the Fermi Paradox, which states that reasonable assumptions lead to the conclusion that the universe should be lousy with aliens; so where are they?
Later, this idea was developed more formally in the Drake Equation, which estimates the number of communicating civilizations in the universe. This equation has a number of variables whose values can only be estimated, and many attempts to estimate them have been attempted over the years. Invariably these estimates yield results that show we should have already detected many such civilizations. The current Science article can only increase the value of the Drake Equation variable having to do with the number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life. So once again, where are all the aliens?
It seems to come down to two really dreary possibilities, and a weird one.
The first is that there is something about life that makes it possible only on Earth. I’m going to avoid certain religious and philosophical arguments completely, and say that I simply don’t believe the universe is that utterly boring and lacking in creativity. One glance up at the stars makes me reject this hypothesis.
The second is that something cataclysmic happens soon after life reaches a level of intelligence where it can communicate in such a way that we can detect it. Oh oh. This seems to indicate that once we learn to build powerful and dangerous toys, which we have, we soon do ourselves in. Yikes!
The third possibility, and more hopeful, is that maybe most alien life is so completely different from us that our ideas of communication are foreign to it.
So I guess our choices are: a completely dull universe; a ticking time bomb; or something so weird and wonderful that we haven’t imagined it yet. I think I’ll hope for the last one.